By Lis Anna-Langston Before I could write full-time, I worked at a greeting card company. Christmas started in May when catalogs and holiday material went to design. The novelty of snowflakes in summer was fun. Just when I thought holiday demand would disappear with the heat, it ramped up again. By October, my holiday cheer thinned out. My family never celebrated holidays together, so a week before Christmas, I got in my Honda and drove. Asheville to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas. My dog and I stopped at roadside motels and drive thru coffee places. I jotted poems and stories on paper bags with stray fries hanging out in the bottom. I was exhausted. I remember sitting in a diner in Shreveport, eating French fries and realizing I didn’t know what day it was. I kept going. I plowed on across Texas, convinced somewhere in the world, meaning and miracles intersected. Charmed by the desert, that massive, waterless expanse of shrub and sand lit up my imagination. The further I drove, the more I started to form an idea for a story. Like, a real holiday story. A story about a little boy who finds something in the forest. It was right there. Pieces of a story, floating around inside the car. I swept through El Paso, passed the border and drove out to Deming, White Sands, to where Billy the Kid was jailed. I ate way too many avocados. I drove to old Indian sites and hiked up cliffs and down into caverns. I blazed my way through barrels of fresh salsa, red and green. I started to get the feeling that I was closer to Christmas than I’d ever been. I bought a telescope and took it out into the desert. It wasn’t sophisticated, but it was portable. From a dirt road in the middle of New Mexico, I could see the moons of Jupiter. Seeing those moons locked in the pull of a planet so far away created a shift in me. A shift that pushed me closer to a magic I’d never been able to define. Not hocus-pocus magic. Real magic. The kind that exists when flowers turn to face the sun. Beyond science and stars and moons, out into the subatomic world of sheer possibility. I could feel it; like it was just around the corner, watching me. I put my dog in the car and headed out towards Tucson. It was beautiful but not my destination. I headed north, towards Flagstaff. The first time I saw the Grand Canyon was at 3AM, under the light of a full moon. It had just snowed. The streets were clear, but a white blanket covered the ground. Enormous elk stood under the moonlight, so huge their bellies came up to the top of my car. Coyotes roamed the wide-open spaces. The world was aglow and alive in that strange canyon. Cold and clear and perfect. I drove to a hotel and prayed they had a vacancy. While my dog sat in a chair staring out at that new world, I sat awake in bed and wrote down the beginning of this story, shaped by my winter in the desert. A story inspired by moons of Jupiter, life in other star systems, strange findings in the forest.
This post originally appeared on Columbia Writers Workshop Blogspot @ http://columbiawritersworkshop.blogspot.com/
A chapter of the South Carolina Writers Association